Covid-19: Thailand tests thousands after virus outbreak in seafood market
The outbreak mainly hit migrant workers in Myanmar who work in the Thai fishing industry
Thailand hit by worst wave of Covid to date
After months of avoiding the surge in cases seen by its neighbors, Thailand has been hit by its worst Covid-19 outbreak to date.
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Tens of thousands of people are tested after hundreds of cases related to the largest fish market.
It has blocked Samut Sakhon, the coastal province near the capital, Bangkok, which is home to the market that mainly employs migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar.
The workers were ordered to stay home.
Thailand was the first country outside of China to register cases of Covid-19. But it has seen a relatively low virus case number since then, with just over 4,000 cases and 60 deaths prior to that last outbreak.
How did this rise start?
It started with a 67-year-old Thai shrimp seller who tested positive on Thursday.
Her case in the Mahachai Market - the heart of Thailand's multi-billion dollar fishing industry - started the mass tests.
Four cases were reported the next day, and by Sunday that number had risen to 689 - most of them were migrants from Myanmar, the Ministry of Health said.
It added that the woman had not left the country in the past and authorities were looking to find the source of the infection.
How was the response?
According to AFP news agency, Myanmar workers who live in the market have been ordered not to leave their homes.
"We are banning and banning them from moving," said Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Kietphgum Wongit, adding that workers would be provided with food and water.
In addition to some Thais, rows of migrant workers - mainly from Myanmar - waited for their coronavirus swabs in the market on Sunday.
According to health officials, most of the cases identified so far have been asymptomatic, the Reuters news agency reported.
Another 360 migrant workers tested positive on Monday - the largest daily infection rate for Covid-19 ever recorded in Thailand.
Tens of thousands of people are said to be tested after this outbreak - Thailand's largest to date
Taweesin Visanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand's Covid-19 task force, said authorities are also "actively tracking multiple communities of around 10,300 people," AFP said.
Samut Sakhon remains under lockdown and night curfew until January 3rd.
According to authorities, up to 40,000 people are being tested there and in the nearby provinces.
How will that affect the country?
Thailand appeared to have largely kept Covid-19 in check, recording a low death toll for a nation of 70 million people sharing porous borders with four countries including Myanmar.
"We have to shorten the epidemic cycle quickly. We already have experience in dealing with it," Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha wrote on his Facebook account over the weekend.
A Myanmar worker who helped coordinate tests in Samut Sakhon told AFP that sentiment against migrants had been shared on social media. Thais accused the workers of importing Covid-19.
In Myanmar, the country's already fragile health system was overwhelmed by a surge in coronavirus cases after a major second wave hit the country in mid-August - daily cases soared to over 1,000 in recent months.
Bangkok authorities have urged people to step up coronavirus prevention measures by avoiding gatherings and observing social distancing. They have also asked public and private sector organizations to cancel their annual countdown parties for the New Year.
The most recent outbreak comes as Thailand attempts to revitalize a pandemic-hit tourism industry. On Thursday it had eased restrictions to allow more foreigners to visit the kingdom.
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